Jacob and I have just returned from a Disciples Youth Ministry Network event, a national gathering of Disciples of Christ Youth pastors held this past week in Florida. Being in a room full of youth ministers, I was taken back to an experience I had in 10th grade when the school paper wanted to include my twin brother and I in a photo story they were doing on all the twins in the high school. One afternoon they gathered us all for a group photo and as I looked around at this room full of duplicates, all I could think of was "what a bunch of freaks we are!" Flash forward 25 years and here I am in a room full of Disciples youth pastors and again find myself thinking "What a bunch of freaks we are!" But in a good way, of course! Any time I get together with other youth folk, I'm reminded what a rare breed we are and what a rare calling we have received.
In a way, this was very much the theme of the keynotes offered up by Mark Yaconelli over the course of the three day conference. In addition to covering some of the content of his latest text, Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry, Mark called on us to reflect on our call to youth ministry. I particularly appreciated his observation that one aspect of that call is disillusionment. In other words, part of following the call to youth ministry involves letting go of our small images of God, our expectations of the Church, and our stereotypes of the teenagers since each has the potential of limiting our ministry. Being open to the experience of disillusionment frees us to receive whatever God might be trying to do through us and those we serve. I can name a few of the illusions I've had to cast off over the years:
- Expecting that all teens come to youth group to learn about faith.
- Expecting all adults in the church to embrace teens with open arms.
- Expecting the church to change as fast as the youth ministry does.
- Expecting parents to put youth group at the top of their teen's list of priorities.
- Expecting that, if I stick with it long enough, I'll finally have a handle on this youth ministry thing!
What illusions have you had to let go of in order to flourish in youth ministry?